Ulf Carmesund is the Social Democratic Party Vice Chairman of the Education Board in Alingsås, and a member of the Alingsås and Chililabombwe municipal partnership steering group.
“The issue that unites those of us from Alingsås with politicians from Chililabombwe in Zambia is that they are keen to increase knowledge of and confidence in politicians and the political system amongst people living in rural areas, and we want to increase confidence in people newly arrived in Alingsås.
How do you view the role of politicians in ICLD’s steering group for municipal partnerships?
“As politicians, we wanted to get something from the contacts we forge – we’re not missionaries or aid providers: we go to talk about how we think, to listen to what they have to say – and to bring something home with us.”
The importance of reciprocity became clear during the discussions in Zambia. Because, according to Ulf, it is from reciprocity that respect is born.
“How we interact with one another is important,” says Ulf. “After a while, you realise that we can learn from one another, which means that both groups start listening more to what each other has to say.”
The work and discussions in Livingstone covered all of ICLD’s core areas: equal/fair and inclusive treatment, involvement and participation, transparency and rights of access, and the potential for accountability.
“It’s about asking a question and listening to the answer, and realising that the answer is something from which I can benefit. Otherwise, you see yourself as some sort of peripatetic apostle, spreading the truth. And the Zambians also seemed to feel that they benefitted from meeting us, too,” says Ulf Carmesund.
No one has a monopoly on truth, according to Ulf, who believes that others can help create a more comprehensive picture of what can be described as “the truth”.
“It’s noticeable in this work. I’ve travelled a fair bit in aid contexts and I’m usually the giver, and there’s a receiver. Which creates a different power structure. One of the important things about ICLD’s work is that we’re not working through civil society here: we’re talking politician to politician.”
When support is offered for civil society in receiving countries, the aim is often for the civil society to influence the politicians, according to Carmesund. In a municipal partnership, it’s a discussion between politicians.
Which is why he thinks ICLD’s method takes the role of politicians seriously.
“I have to do and say the sort of things that I, as a politician believe in. And the method imposes demands on me: I’m there on the taxpayers’ dime, and I want to bring something home with me that we can benefit from in Alingsås. Otherwise, we won’t be able to continue with this work,” says Ulf, and continues, “ICLD is building societies and that fascinates me. Increasing expertise and political know-how through meetings is an important job of work.”
He is the Vice Chairman of Alingsås municipality’s Education Board, which includes the integration department. And in his day-to-day work, he’s the international secretary of a branch of the Social Democratic Party, whose offices are on Sveavägen in Stockholm.
His contact with ICLD developed from an administrative meeting.
“Administrative staff from Alingsås municipality attended a training course organised by ICLD some years ago, and they came home so inspired, saying, “We want to get involved with this!” We’re very much on board with the idea of reciprocity, with the idea that we can learn from one another,” says Ulf. “The exchange is supported in Alingsås both by my party, the Social Democrats, and by the Alliance parties, which ensures consistency and stability.”
The idea led, in 2015, to a partnership with the northern Zambian municipality of Chililabombwe, focusing on community dialogue. Ulf remembers how politicians from Chililabombwe made a field trip to Alingsås, and that they visited a waste incineration facility in Gothenburg. Last summer, when Ulf invited his visiting Zambian political colleagues to lunch, they wanted to check out the cellar to see what he did with his waste.
“The discussion was very concrete, but was also generalisable. Political work is about both practical problem solving, like the person who sorts waste or returns a can for recycling benefits personally in concrete terms from managing their waste and, at the same time, helps build society.”
Livingstone in Zambia was in a few days in
December 2017, a meeting place for an ICLD
conference for municipal partnerships where
politicians from Zambia and Sweden participated.
How can you transfer your experience of the Livingstone conference to Alingsås?
“Our colleagues in Zambia wondered what we thought about arranged marriages for young women. We naturally reject it and explained that it had become a phenomenon in our society in conjunction with immigration. Politicians in Zambia have been addressing the issue for a number of years now and are more experienced when it comes to the sort of arguments we can use to convince parents not to arrange marriages for their young daughters. That’s one area where Sweden has something to learn from Zambian politicians. What they taught us was something we could bring home to use in our discussions with new arrivals in our municipality.”
Has the climate for debate become more open in the Alingsås town hall, do you think, thanks to your involvement and partnership with Zambia?
“That’s probably taking things a little too far, but many people have realised the importance of more personal interactions between people. When it comes to information, simply sending en email or posting information on the website isn’t enough. Personal contacts and face to face meetings build relationships and confidence between the local community and politicians, which is not only more effective, it increases satisfaction levels overall.”
Ulf believes that the pro-democracy work done under ICLD’s banner can make a difference.
“If European democracy and local political experience can be of use in Zambia, then that’s really exciting. One factor in this is, I think, the reciprocity that ICLD cultivates. It creates new building blocks for the relationship between Sweden and Zambia, and ICLD. And their efforts to promote reciprocity, are something that differentiates ICLD’s work from the unilateral transfer of funding and the control apparatus that characterises so much of the rest of the aid system.”